Ole Miss knocked Mississippi State down with a first-quarter flurry of three touchdowns, two after Bulldog turnovers, before coasting to a 38-27 final. The best State could manage from there was cutting into margin, as a real rally was not going to happen.
“They were the better team from top-to-bottom and outplayed us,” CB Taveze Calhoun said. “They got the win.”
That win was the first by a visiting team in this rivalry since 2010, and only the second since 2003. The Rebels end the regular season 9-3, 6-2 SEC and in contention for a New Years Six bowl berth, likely the Sugar Bowl.
Mississippi State is 8-4, 4-4 and will play post-season for a record sixth-straight year. Unfortunately fan enthusiasm—and likely ticket sales—took the worst possible blow with a rivalry loss on the home field.
“(We’re) obviously disappointed to lose the game,” Coach Dan Mullen said. “We made some mistakes out there.” Mullen is now 4-3 in the rivalry after starting with three consecutive wins.
It was a particularly painful home finale for Prescott. He will leave as Mississippi State’s finest football player of modern memory, but also on a loss that seemed unthinkable. Yet it would also have seemed unimaginable that Prescott would be charged with a pair of turnovers that let Ole Miss establish immediate control.
With two first downs on the night’s opening series, Prescott was bulling for another move-of-chains when DeMarquis Gates came in low and hard. “He put his helmet right on the ball,” Prescott said.
A recovery at their 38 gave Ole Miss’ offense its first chance. Only four snaps were needed to go the 62 yards and quarterback Chad Kelly made his mark instantly. He threw for 18 yards, then 15 on a pass S Jamal Peters let get between his hands; and on first down at State’s 27 darted through the right side for a touchdown at 11:09.
Prescott was sacked twice on the next, short series, giving Ole Miss another turn. This drive took nine plays to go 68 yards and make it 14-0 at 5:10. The real back-breaker came three minutes later. Scrambling away from pressure, Prescott thought he could get a throw to WR Fred Brown on the right sideline.
“I should have thrown the ball away, something I usually do,” Prescott said. “I tried to make a play right there.” Rebel Tony Bridges stepped in front of Brown for the pick, and ran 45 yards for the six.
There was 3:05 left in that quarter and three entire periods more. But as soon as Bridges broke into the clear the 62,265 present and TV audience knew how this one would end. “We dug ourselves in a hole that was too deep,” MLB Richie Brown said.
That hole got even deeper, and after further offensive frustration. A 35-yard Prescott scramble to the Rebel ten-yard line only produced three points by PK Westin Graves. Ole Miss more than trumped that with a touchdown drive. Moving to State’s 36 with first down Kelly found Damoreea Stringfellow around the 20-yard line moving right-to-left. Stringfellow caught in-stride and got to the left pylon at 10:45. The Rebels missed a field goal to leave the halftime margin at 28-3, having stopped Prescott on a 4th-and-one drive for no gain at the OM 35.
The Rebels had 250 yards by halftime with 12-of-15 passing from Kelly, who also scooted for 59 yards by either necessity or choice. None of it was un-scouted by State. “That’s stuff we practiced,” DE Ryan Brown said. “We just had to execute it and it’s frustrating we didn’t do that.”
The Rebel defense wasn’t overwhelming statistically as Prescott was 16-of-20 at the half. The two turnovers did more to stop State, though Bulldog blocking didn’t do much to get things started. LT Rufus Warren was unable to play after early-week kidney stone surgery and the line was revamped another time.
That still was not adequate excuse for how Ole Miss’ defensive front, by itself and with almost no blitzing required, got to Prescott for seven official sacks. State’s line hurt their own cause as well with several clear holding penalties, a couple of pre-snap moves, and simple breakdowns.
The Dog defense did eventually settle in and start forcing punts, to end one half and start the next. “We caught the tempo, slowed things down, and that’s when we were able to execute at a high level,” Ryan Brown said. The offense also showed some life signs after WR Fred Ross’ 15-yard punt return for good starting position. Prescott given time found Fred Brown for a 24-yard strike to the Rebel five, and stuck the ball across the goal from a yard out at 11:54.
When Ole Miss missed another field goal and the Bulldogs made one, 27 yards by Graves, the 28-13 offered at least some hope. Kelly squelched it fast, completing throws for 18 and 26 yards to give Gary Wunderlich a third field goal chance. He was good from 48 yards at 2:45.
The issue was settled early in the fourth period as Jordan Wilkins ran 38 yards at 13:22 for the 38-13 margin. Mississippi State chopped two touchdowns off the deficit as Prescott twice found WR Malik Dear, for scores of 13 and seven yards.
Prescott finished with 254 yards on 31-of-42 passing and two touchdowns. He also ended up team-high rusher with 63 net yards but needed 21 runs and one-third of those were sacks for losses of 43 yards. Yes, the second half was much more productive.
“I didn’t make those same mistakes. We got going, the offensive line protected better, and we made some plays.” Ross caught 12 of his completions for 117 yards, though WR De’Runnya Wilson was relatively shackled with 65 yards on five balls and no scores in what likely was the junior’s final home game.
Kelly threw for 236 yards and a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions, and ran for 74 more yards and another score. The Rebel ground game had an even bigger bulge of 243 yards to 148. Seven Rebels got at least a piece of a sack, while Mississippi State never bagged Kelly on a passing play.
“He turns no plays into plays,” Richie Brown said. “And we were trying to shut down the big throws.” Brown led State with a dozen tackles.
Mullen pointed to turnover ratio, missed offensive opportunities, missed tackles, and six penalties by a club that doesn’t draw flags often. And, of course, the sacks. “When you do that you’re not going to win the game. Pretty cut and dried.”
What is also clear is the greatest Dog of many generations and a team that has scuffled to eight wins still had to walk off without one more win, or the Golden Egg. They will go bowling of course, and another game is always welcome. Mullen said the State staff was heading out Sunday on recruiting trips, which was planned regardless of outcome.
But no matter how busy everyone stays this week, the pain will remain. For a very, very long time. “Nothing good about it,” Prescott said.